The Horrifying History Of The Rokurokubi Vampire Demons Might Convince You Of Their Existence

Sometimes it feels as if there are as many famous yokai in Japanese urban legends as there are heroes in the Marvel universe. When it comes to creepy stories about demons in Japan, the supernatural yokai play both heroic and nefarious roles, depending on the tale at hand. While some yokai exist as horrible demons, others only want to play pranks; some more benevolent yokai even bring good luck. Since no true equivalent of the yokai exists in the West, it helps to think of them more as paranormal-monster-mythological-creature hybrids. Furthermore, certain yokai, like the sometimes vampiric rokurokubi, live as both humans and demons, further complicating the existence of these "monsters."

Yokai appear throughout Japanese folklore, and many of these tales speak of the rokurokubi. These yokai appear in human (and typically female) form during the day, but their head wanders off at night, usually still attached to their neck. While rokurokubi are more pranksters than anything, their kind also includes nukekubi, blood-thirsty demons whose floating heads exude vampire-like tendencies. Along with many other yokai, the history of rokurokubi vampire demons is part of Japanese culture, making them a beloved, and sometimes feared, addition to Japanese legends and your worst nightmares.

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  • Even Though They Appear Human, There Are Ways To Identify A Rokurokubi

    Even Though They Appear Human, There Are Ways To Identify A Rokurokubi
    Photo: Toriyama Sekien / Wikimedia Commons / PD-US

    Since rokurokubi look exactly like humans, and some even believe they are too, identifying the yokai can be quite difficult. According to legend, however, certain signs do give the rokurokubi away. Stretch marks along the neck sometimes appear during the day, prompting the yokai to wear scarves or other accessories around its neck. Others wear several layers of clothing to distract people from their strange necks. Stories also tell of rokurokubi falling asleep while their heads traveled, leaving a big surprise for their neighbors and families. It would be a shock to themselves as well when they wake to find they have an extremely long neck and their head in another location. 

  • The Rokurokubi Legend Stems From Several Ideas

    The Rokurokubi Legend Stems From Several Ideas
    Photo: Toho

    The legend of rokurokubi appears in Japanese kaidan, scary folk tales with extremely old roots. Numerous ghost stories tell of heads detaching from bodies and flying off into the night, a theme many thought to be symbolism for wandering souls or sleepwalking. Since Japanese culture is also fond of puns, the legend of rokurokubi might also come from comparing yokai to nosy women who like to follow everyone else's business. A woman who appears normal but whose attention keeps wandering to the conversations of others could easily make a very scary monster. There's also sayings about "sticking one's neck out," which could have been used in the creation of the legend as well.

  • Although Horrifying, Rokurokubi Can Be Defeated

    Since rokurokubi only reveal themselves at night, killing them usually requires catching them in their true form. Chopping off the head of a rokurokubi while her neck extends is also an option, as well as hiding her body during the night. In theory, if the head cannot return to her body, the yokai will die. Smart and crafty rokurokubi may take extra steps in hiding their body though, so destroying them may not be as easy as it sounds. 

    Given the fact many of these yokai do not even know of their curse, you may seek to simply cure rather than kill the cursed person. One legend claims feeding the liver of a dog with white hair to a nukekubi when she is in her human form will lift the curse.

  • Rokurokubi Appear In A Variety Of Japanese Stories

    In the Sorori Monogatari, a man chases a nukekubi head with a sword as the head returns to its body. As he arrives outside the head owner's house he hears a woman telling someone else about a dream in which a sword-wielding man chased her home.

    Another story tells of a man trying curing his wife of the curse by feeding her the liver from his pet dog. The woman is absolved of her curse by the treatment but had unfortunately already passed the curse onto their daughter. When the young girl becomes a yokai the next evening, the dog appears as a ghost and bites the head of the rokurokubi, killing it.

    In an extremely creepy tale, an entire village of rokurokubi is discovered. Every villager wears a scarf around their neck to hide their scars, even the children.